Sunday, October 31, 2010


the other night. . .

photo © bob arnold

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Text Color

Friday, October 29, 2010


We had a good friend of the family come by the other night for a late supper and an overnight before he shoved off the next morning for the Catskills, a lovely three hour morning ride. The last time he was here we were building the scaffold for the roof job. He never saw the full scale job and it was too dark when he arrived to see the new roof, but he did say it all sounded "heroic", either when he read the Birdhouse report or maybe in one of my personal letters to him. "Heroic" could mean it indeed was, or little ol' me made my reports this way. I'm ready to take responsibility for both. If we all have anything left of ourselves, and between and with each other, let it be a few inches of the heroic. It need not be selfish or selfless. It can be fully a gift.

I already mentioned in a previous Birdhouse James and Kay Salter's excellent book
Life Is Meals (Knopf) of food chat, menus and all good things eating. Never at McDonalds, mind you, or slumming at any dairy bars that I can recall. The Salters are shimmering in Paris, tending fine NY restaurants, abiding their own cuisine at home in Aspen, and a lot of it surrounded by names like Alice Waters, A.J. Liebling, Craig Claiborne. More heroics. A terrific day book reminiscing on particular food stuffs, vegetables, exquisite meals, personalities, birthdays. The book is all divided into chapters by the month, so I took six days and read two months at a time, all 400 pages of the meaty book aloud to Sweetheart in our Vermont kitchen, between 5&6 o'clock each day, twilight coming, while she prepared our supper. Including the one last night for our guest, except he wasn't here yet so I spoke the book while the chicken cooked, a pot of rice, acorn squash, and I had already fluffed up a salad.

Sweetheart loves to cook and bake. She has since a little girl and was lucky to have a mother who taught her techniques and a certain flair. With me she cooked 30 years on only a wood fired cookstove, and then we added a gas cooking range and on the coldest days of the year we will have both stoves fired up and cooking away. A pie in one (apple or pumpkin), two pans on the flat iron heat, and something roasting in the gas oven. There's a second main woodstove and that's always warming a silver kettle. And keeping our toes warm.

When I would come upon a sumptuous part of the Salter book, say with a recipe, Sweetheart would ask to have it read aloud. Pretty please. Cooks and their recipes are like poets and their best first lines — savor and hold. It's a double treat with this book because the Salters work their prose as poetry. There's everything to learn.

salter photo:
sweetheart: photo © bob arnold

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot defend themselves or run away. And few destroyers of trees ever plant any; nor can planting avail much toward restoring our grand aboriginal giants. It took more than three thousand years to make some of the oldest of the Sequoias, trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the eventful centuries since Christ's time, and long before that, God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand storms; but he cannot save them from sawmills and fools; this is left to the American people. The news from Washington is encouraging. On March third [1905?] the House passed a bill providing for the Government acquisition of the Calaveras giants. The danger these Sequoias have been in will do good far beyond the boundaries of the Calaveras Grove, in saving other groves and forests, and quickening interest in forest affairs in general. While the iron of public sentiment is hot let us strike hard. In particular, a reservation or national park of the only other species of Sequoia, the
sempervirens, or redwood, hardly less wonderful than the gigantea, should be quickly secured. It will have to be acquired by gift or purchase, for the Government has sold every section of the entire redwood belt from the Oregon boundary to below Santa Cruz.

from "Save the Redwoods"
Sierra Club Bulletin, January 1920

John Muir: Nature Writings
The Library of America


Ding, Dong,

Sing me a song,

That way the

Work day is

Not so long.

This poem is by Clyde Watson. It's one I like to remember when at my work and holding tools — whether high on a roof, or scrambling in the dark dirty sections of a crawl space, under floor boards, like I was just the other day — somebody shooting through a stone foundation I had busted into for an iron pipe gas line. This little poem/song can brighten the darkest spot. Try it.

Clyde Watson is a woman with a man's name. Her parents thought it was pretty. She has a sister Wendy who has illustrated some of her books. Father Fox's Pennyrhymes appeared when both were very young. Clyde Watson grew up in an old farmhouse in southern Vermont with animals about and seven brothers and sisters which has been an enduring inspiration for her published work. Her father, who was one of the ones that liked a pretty name, is the graphic artist Aldren Watson.

a tiny clyde watson

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Two sonnets in praise of Dante (1265-1321), composed by M. 1545-46, of which the artist knew the poet's work intimately. In their separate times, from Florence, both were forced into exile.


---He came down from heaven, and once he had seen

the just hell and the merciful one,he went

back up, with his body alive, to contemplate God,

in order to give us the true light of it all.

---For such a shining star, who with his rays

undeservedly brightened the nest where I was born,

the whole wicked world would not be enough reward;

only you, who created him, could ever be that.

---I speak of Dante, for his deeds were poorly

appreciated by that ungrateful people

who fail to welcome only righteous men.

---If only I were he! To be born to such good fortune

to have his harsh exile along with his virtue,

I would give up the happiest state in the world.


---All that should be said of him cannot be said,

for his splendor flamed too brightly for our eyes;

it's easier to blame the people who hurt him

than for all our greatest to rise to his last virtue.

---This man descended to the just deserts of error

for our benefit, and then ascended to God;

and the gates that heaven did not block for him

his homeland shut to his righteous desire.

---I call her ungrateful, and nurse of her fortune

to her own detriment, which is a clear sign

that she lavishes the most woes on the most perfect.

---Among a thousand proofs this one suffices:

no exile was ever as undeserved as his,

and no man equal or greater was ever born.

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)

translated by James M. Saslow
The Poetry of Michelangelo (Yale)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010



Flourishing minds were at work during the filming of Contempt / Le Mepris (1963) — the French-Swiss director Jean-Luc Godard, his cameraman Raoul Coutard, actors Michel Piccoli, Brigitte Bardot, Jack Palance, and an angel on my shoulder visitation by German director Fritz Lang, who plays a director in a film about a film about theater about an odyssey. It is probably Godard's most commercially successful film, loosely based on a novel by Alberto Moravia, with black magic ingredients injected by Godard. In this sequence shown we are located around Casa Malaparte — the home creation on the island of Capri by the Italian author Curzio Malaparte. He fired his architect and built this rock nest on rock with the stonemason Adolfo Amitrano. It's situated 32 meters above the sea overlooking the Gulf of Salerno. Its wholeness with nature reminded the author of his youth in Tuscany. Things got done by Malaparte, even during a world war (2) and maybe because of it. If lung cancer hadn't cut him short just shy of age 60, one of his dreams was to bicycle across America.

Curzio Malaparte with Zita

Photo courtesy Casa Malaparte archive

Monday, October 25, 2010


film: Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary (2002) a documentary
by Andre Heller & Othmar Schmiderer

Sunday, October 24, 2010



redeem the surrogate goodbyes

the sheet astream in your hand

who have no more for the land

and the glass unmisted above your eyes

Samuel Beckett
Collected Poems in English & French
(Grove Press)

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Eric Hoffer

The man who wrote well of fanaticism and mass movements (where we are returning) in any of his ten books (see The True Believer and The Ordeal of Change) was Bronx born in 1902 and was gone in 1983, but not without leaving his mark. Mostso in the city of San Francisco, around the docks of The Embarcadero, where he worked and lived as a longshoreman until his retirement at the age of 65. This was an era when someone still loved to work. The longshoreman philosopher is what they called him, best served in his classic Working and Thinking on the Waterfront, a personal favorite of mine — less on the preaching and extolling and more on the building of each day, mind, body and spirit.

Hoffer had a short and cruel childhood — his mother accidentally fell on a stairway with 5 year old Hoffer in her arms — this fall would take her life. Hoffer went blind two years later. At 5 he was already reading both English and German. His cabinetmaker father died shortly after the boy of fifteen's sight miraculously returned, no one knows quite how, but he began reading voraciously and never stopped. He was said to have a library card in every town in southern California where he worked his early years as a migrant worker. A favorite author was Montaigne.

Incorrectly labeled a conservative, Hoffer was but one more hardworking dreamer and doer, living simply and alone in his San Francisco apartment near the docks. Never wealthy or abusive with power, as many who had admired and awarded him (Reagan), he was a poet of America's underclass, which he described as "lumpy with talent."

"Hear, Hear!" and hello Eric Hoffer.

Columbia Records famed producer John Hammond caught the young Dylan in one word, it was the very word that zeroed in the troubadour — quite different than all the others with a guitar — "sincerity". When Hoffer was alive and at work, and Dylan was rising fast, no one in their right mind would align the two...yet there is the same sincerity in the work of both. In this song, unlike any Dylan would ever write or perform, is the open heart and the open road — Hoffer born in New York City had to get westward; Dylan off the northern plains had to get to New York. Prospects, hurdles and dreams are with them both. Far beyond politics. Lucky stars.

eric hoffer photo from "working and thinking on the waterfront" (Harper & Row)

back road chalkie photo: bob arnold

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Maybe you'll recall from a few weeks back when we were finishing up the new steel roof, a big box of tiles arrived from Mexico. We spent one late breakfast breaking into the nest and marveled over how well all the tiles were wrapped. Somewhere in the world someone is still taking the care with their work. And we tried to complement that on this end by tiling part of the chimney up on the ridgetop, and then on Columbus Day, when bicyclists were sailing by and the maples were turning their best colors, I coated our front door frame, all four sides, with the tiles.
Someday when someone (maybe me) has to get down into the long strap hinges, there will be something to think about. It's good to think. Especially with a tool in your hands.

We were hoping the trapezoid roof shaped job would be the clincher on the spring ~ summer season, where we were away painting a house for someone and taking care of general carpentry repairs, then back home with all sorts of big and small repairs. Roof done, head into some tiling, work up some stonewall, cut plenty of firewood...then the power vent on the old oil furnace busted down. It doesn't work so good without the power vent, although for a week or so I ran the range with one wily worker who had me almost convinced we could run the furnace with a stovepipe for how little we burn per year (75 gallons)...this is a firewood house...and then I pressed him about carbon monoxide poisoning and the draft for the flue and all of a sudden that worker was long gone. Left us in a lurch. I swore the next time a power vent crapped out we'd end our oil run and move to gas. I put the furnace in 20 years ago with a friend and it all still worked fine. A Williamson. Can't find the parts any longer for the one day I took a few socket-wrenches down into the cellar with me and kneeling in dry crushed rock, dismantled the furnace. The size being maybe the size of what I always imagine one of Wilhelm Reich's orgone boxes to be. Quite an image.

I removed the metal side walls, then dug deeper down into the empty chamber of motor, pump, blower etc., and finally the belly of the beast: the heat exchanger. The heaviest part of the furnace, the worker, the nucleus, the heat maker. Still solid, no cracks, it would make someone a perfect
piece of the furniture if their old furnace was in need. Sweetheart and I lugged everything out of the cellar, then rolled the heat exchanger up planks and lifted it out of the bulkhead, across the porch and then a long roll into the garden where I stood it up in what will be a deep bed of daylily flowers by next June. I removed the small steel roof I built over the old power vent location and topped the heat exchanger off with its cap. In the rain but out of the rain. All the parts are on Craigslist, plus the heat exchanger, and I'll wait awhile before I take it off and keep the parts as decoration, or in the old parts foundry I have where someone may come by one day asking if we 'have a such 'n' such.'

Right now we call the heat exchanger with power vent roof "R2-D2".

I told a friend about our "R2-D2" and he wrote back from Illinois saying, "I always wondered what he'd do after he retired."

Quite an image.

photos © bob arnold

Don't be afraid of being called 'unmodern'. Changes in the old methods of construction are only allowed if they can claim to bring improvement; otherwise stick with the old ways. Because the truth, even if hundreds of years old, has more inner connection than the falsehood that walks beside us.

Adolf Loos, 1913

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

EZ ~

Handsome, ain't it?

And just when you were on the brink of joining Facebook and Twitter,
in comes the Pro. A new reading of a classic, with both the poems
and some of the finest translations known to mankind.
Hosted by Richard Sieburth and gifted
by New Directions for the astonishing
price of $15.95, almost 400 pages!
still smelling of fresh ink
onto old leaves of grass.


I made a pact with you, Walt Whitman —
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
Who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough not to make friends.
It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root —
Let there be commerce between us.

Monday, October 18, 2010


It takes a lot of muscle to get into Aharon Shabtai's poems, or maybe you won't think so.

One day I couldn't get a spark going as I read.

Months later it was all there, or I finally was.

This is the beauty given from poetry. Unlike today's new world, it isn't a flick of a switch.

This man writes beautifully and big about the biggest and smallest ideas, concerns, walk of the day. Peter Cole translations champion each poem with just the right verve, and the publisher, once again New Directions, gives it to us.

Aharon Shabtai was married to the scholar and activist Tanya Reinhart until her passing in 2007.

These are love poems to mother, lover, country.


..........................for Tali Fahima

It was a bad year.

People got used to lies

as though to bread.

Toss them

for the umpteenth time

the same old fabrication

and they'll race to gobble it up

like a pack of ducks.

The stupid cruelty

[ats itself on the back,

and looks, smiling, into the camera.

At the nursery they're selling orchids,

while within a bark's distance

millions of people are caged like beasts.

A young woman from the country's poor,

a certain courageous swallow,

let the voice of sonscience be heard

within the kingdom of baseness,

but the fist of power

grabbed her, too, by the hair,

and threw her into jail.


Many books,

many collections of poems,

were printed in 2006

and set out on tables

during National Book Week.

I leaf through a few,

and on every page,

from page 1

to page 30,

to page 80

and 308,

I see only

a single sentence:

Mothers and children

in Gaza are searching

for food in heaps of trash.


I'm a widower

and will stay a widower,

because I'm a widower

and my wife has gone away

and my wife is gone,


her table too

isn't her table

and her husband, well,

is not her husband


"Tanya was gorgeous"

I tell Moishe

and he raises his head

over the bowl of bean soup

and just as he did ten years ago

he looks at me and says:

"Not everyone thinks so."


If our memory matters at all to you,

please, please, for the space

of a single year or more,

for ten years or twenty,

let it rest in a little oblivion

so that it might be draped

in the pure curtain of silence.

For fish in ponds as well

when it comes to water require freshness.

And you've pushed and pulled us

to the point of utter exhaustion.

Please, spare us at least for a little while

the hot air of your pronouncements.

Nationalist blather isn't

kindly received

at the threshold of heaven.

For heaven's gates are open

and generous to all mankind,

and neither rabbis nor officers

nor those in positions of power

hold any sway over us there.

So shut up and let us hear on high

the sorrows of the Bedouin too.

The Filipina worker's weeping,

what the hungry

Indian in Bolivia's saying,

what song it is they're singing

on the Euphrates' banks.

If you've learned a thing from looking

at the mounds of our eyeglasses,

please take into account

the eyes of a boy of nine,

instead of making your pilgrimage

to the barbed-wire fences

where we were sent for extermination.

Because — enclosures intended for people,

so experience teaches,

gives rise to infectious disease.

Aharon Shabtai
War & Love, Love & War
(New Directions 2010)

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I was standing in a store today, minding my own business, waiting for Sweetheart taking care of some questions, when a clerk walked up and asked if he could help me.

I smiled and said everything was fine I was just waiting.

He looked a little perplexed as to what I could be waiting for and asked again if there was anything I wanted.

I didn't want to bother anyone, that's why I stood at the store entrance, near a candy bowl (filled to the brim), not near any merchandise and was looking over framed photographs / portraits of essentially 60s icons on the wall. Nicely done. Picasso, Joan Baez, Martin Luther King, John & Yoko. Some full poster size, others of regular fare.

There's Jackie Robinson sliding into home plate.

At a loss the clerk saw my study and pointed to one of the photographs and asked, "Do you know who that is? Most don't."

I looked where he pointed — which happened to be the most familiar photograph in all the room for me, and said — "They don't know Samuel Beckett?"

Talk about silence.


Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, after a night of drinking in Paris

in the 1960s, ended up at Les Halles at 4 a.m. for onion soup. Pinter

fell asleep at the table, exhausted and suffering from stomach cramps.

He woke to find Beckett had scoured the town and come back with

bicarbonate of soda. "It was then I knew," Pinter wrote, "that this was

a man who understood everything about the human condition."

— from a most wonderful food lover's book of days
Life Is Meals (Knopf) by James and Kay Salter,
husband and wife team, amateur chefs, literary maestros.
Bad for them but good for me I found the book for 99 cents,
about brand new, fresh as bread.

( on with the show )

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I don't know about you, but what got to me the most watching the long haul excavation and rescue and triumph of the Chilean people at the San Jose de Copiapo Mine (opened in 1889 and shutdown in August 2010 when 33 miners were trapped) was the ingenious and proud method of using the wheel. See above. The New York Times website had a live feed we sat around for a few hours late into the night just watching that powerful and methodical cable, wheel and pulley design do its stuff. It took people down and it brought people up. Simple after all. An invention (the wheel) that has been with us since the mid 4th millennium BCE. Whether first seen in evidence from Mesopotamia, central Europe or the northern Caucasus, take your pick. The other night, and through the next day, it was the beauty of Chile.

Rodrigo Arangua/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Heather Christle

Acorn Duly Crushed

Dear stupid forest.

Dear totally brain-dead forest.

Dear beautiful ugly stupid forest

full of nightingales

why won't you shut up.

What do you want from me.

A train is too expensive.

A clerk will fall asleep.

Dear bitchy stupendous forest.

Trade seats with me.

Now it is your birthday.


Someone will probably slap you

about the face and ears.

Indulgent municipal forest.

Forest of scarves and of beards.

Dear rapid bloodless forest

you are talking all the time.

You are not pithy.

You are like 8,000 swans.

Dear nasty pregnant forest.

You are so hot!

You are environmentally significant.

Men love to hand themselves

from your standard old growth trees.

Don't look at me.

You are the one with

the ancient noble terror.

Bad forest. Forest wish

important gangs of leaves.

Dear naive forest,

what won't you be admitting!

Blunt international forest.

Forest of bees and of hair.

You should come back to my house.

We can bag drugs all night.

You can tell me

about your new windows.

How they are just now

beginning to sprout.

Heather Christle
from The Difficult Farm
Octopus Books /

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Workers began to cover the first 96 meters of the evacuation tube with steel tubes for the 33 trapped miners who remained trapped since last 5 August, 2,300 feet below the ground at the San Jose mine, in Copiapo, north of Chile, 10 October 2010. According to the Chilean Mining Minister Laurence Golborne the beginning of the rescue is still planned for next Wednesday, 13 October, as well that to take out the 33 miners would take about 48 hours. EPA/Danny Alveal

Monday, October 11, 2010


This is an old announcement card for my book of train travels

American Train Letters (Coyote/SUNY Buffalo) ~

if you wish a copy, the book remains $10

Please add $3.95 shipping

Enjoy the ride!

or by Paypal (U.S. orders only; international ~ please inquire):